Wednesday, October 19, 2011

As Greece Descends into Chaos -- or Ascends from Slavery, depending

Photo from Guardian slide show about the continuing tumult in Greece over the loss of sovereignty to rapacious banking interests and other things.

Some discussion of "Diversity of Tactics" might be in order. In fact, there is such a discussion over at Waging Nonviolence, a site that features writers and articles I sometimes take issue with, but which keeps an ongoing and comprehensive record of nonviolent change -- not always through resistance and revolution -- all over the world.

Ché's Intro to the Waging Non-Violence Article below:

"Diversity of Tactics" refers to the utilization of a variety of means and methods of direct action to accomplish social and political change. Cut and dried, right? Well, no. Among the tactics that fall under this modest and unassuming rubric, are such things as marches and rallies and public demonstrations of all kinds, general and strategic labor strikes, various forms of computer network disruption (such as is used by Anonymous and the like), leaks of sensitive or secret information (such as is done by WikiLeaks and others), and most characteristically, so called Black Bloc actions -- mostly hit and run vandalism, overturning dumpsters, spray or other forms of painting buildings (or in Greece, some of the police), breaking windows or setting cars or other stationary objects alight. Black Bloc tactics specifically target buildings and inanimate objects, often symbolic of the oppressive power structure that is being resisted or opposed by the particular direct action under way (such as, for example, direct action opposition to Globalization or the Olympics).

It is the Black Bloc tactics, primarily, that most people get very nervous about. But keep in mind many people don't like any form of direct action for social justice and change at all, preferring the familiar and relatively safe indirect action of routinized and standardized civil society; ie: politics as usual.

Politics is hard; democracy is harder. Social democracy that actually works to the benefit of the masses is hardest of all.

The form of social and political democracy that has been adopted by OccupyWallStreet is one of its many strengths; the nonviolent philosophy that underlies it has provided an extraordinary level of safe ground for direct action.

And so, to the article, which I will excerpt parts of and yammer and natter about.

What ‘diversity of tactics’ really means for Occupy Wall Street

Until I became involved in the Occupy movement, I had never paid attention to the term "Diversity of Tactics," and I may never have heard it before. For most of my life, I've been very engaged in social justice causes and in direct and standard political action. Yet I'd never heard that term before, at least not to the point where it had any meaning and I committed it to memory. Now, however, the term and the idea is percolating through the Occupy movement, and while I don't hear it often, I do hear it and read about it.

Like much of the rest of the Occupy movement's grounding philosophy, "Diversity of Tactics" comes directly out of Anarchic thought and action.

While I've long been an activist -- even a radical -- in a more or less traditional "lefty" sense, I've never before had much contact with anarchists and anarchist thought. Until a demonstration was made in New York of how an anarchic organizational model can work -- through OccupyWallStreet and the New York City General Assembly -- I essentially dismissed it out of hand, much as I've seen more traditionally minded Socialists do to this day. They have no faith that something like this can work, so they don't believe it does work. Much as I believed until I saw it for myself.

Consequently, "Diversity of Tactics" is not widely known or employed. But New York is using "Diversity of Tactics" in its direct actions, and at the same time, it is modifying the idea to be physically nonviolent.

"This. Is. A Peaceful Protest!" And so it is.

Those who extoll the importance of total nonviolent discipline—as Lakey eloquently goes on to do—might be disappointed to learn that Occupy Wall Street has made “diversity of tactics” its official modus operandi. However, the way that the occupiers have carried out this policy might actually lead us to think of its meaning and implications in a more compelling way.

Emphasis mine. Yes, well.

"Official." Give me a break! "Diversity of Tactics" is being utilized in a characteristically (for OccupyWallStreet) nonviolent way. Despite hundreds and hundreds of arrests in New York and around the country, there have been no reported acts of violence against property -- such as spray painting, breaking windows and overturning dumpsters -- that is so identified with Diversity of Tactics. Clearly we're dealing with something else again.

So far, at least, what “diversity of tactics” has meant to the occupiers is not simply openness to violence but actually a richer interpretation of the phrase—indeed, a whole philosophy of direct action that comes out of anarchist thought. In this, “diversity of tactics” shares the same heritage and logic of the open assemblies that are the heart of the occupation movement. Take this passage from a pamphlet on hand at occupied Liberty Plaza, Anarchist Basics:

Affinity groups ["of 5 to 20 people"] decide on their own what they want to do and how they want to do it, and aren’t obliged to take orders from any person on top. As such, they challenge top-down decision-making and organizing, and empower those involved to take direct action in the world around them. Affinity groups can make decisions in whatever way they see fit, but they generally use some form of consensus or direct democracy to decide on goals and tactics. Affinity groups by nature are decentralized and non-hierarchical, two important principles of anarchist organizing and action.

Small groups acting more or less autonomously toward common goals is a matter of principle as well as of pragmatism. These groups, in turn, can voluntarily coordinate with each other in spokescouncils. Operating this way reflects the kind of values that many in the occupation movement insist on: individual autonomy, consensus decision making, decentralization, and equality.

That is (pretty much) the model of how it is done in New York, but let's look at what's been done, too:

Consider, for instance, the two main events which brought public attention and sympathy to the movement: the arrest of nearly 100 on a march near Union Square on September 24 (which included an infamous pepper-spraying incident), and the approximately 700 arrested a week later on the Brooklyn Bridge. In both cases, the arrests directly followed instances of autonomous action by small groups, which splintered away from the plan established by the Direct Action Committee. (At Union Square, there was a dispute about whether to take the march back to Liberty Plaza or to the United Nations; at the Brooklyn Bridge, hundreds of marchers chose to spill onto the roadway rather than remaining on the narrow pedestrian walkway.) In both cases, too, the police responded to such autonomous action with violent overreaction, which in turn garnered tremendous interest from the media.

Indeed, it was the grossly disproportionate action of the NYPD on September 24 that triggered media interest in what was going on, and the mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge were, from a media standpoint, gold.

How these two incidents came into being is of some interest. Since there is no Central Office that is actually in charge and directs these things, their autonomous nature is surprisingly easily replicable by those who might want to try it.

I have previously called for the movement to adopt more orderly kinds of civil disobedience actions, ones targeted specifically at the laws they oppose—on the model of lunch-counter sit-ins in the civil rights movement, for instance. However, I’ve been forced to recognize that the chaotic stuff seems to work.

I would add that the tension between traditional and more free form (and intrinsically anarchic) organizational and action models is part of the internal dynamism throughout the movement.

Thus, while it can be disheartening to see so much traditionalism and even rigidity of thought in OccupySacramento, there are those who continue to press a free-association, anarchic model as well. The problem here, as it is in many other places, is that most of the participants have no familiarity with -- or in some cases even knowledge of -- how other Occupations are organized and how the New York model came to be and is being adapted.

This is the key thought in the piece:

We already know that power structures which rely on violence are helpless against coordinated nonviolent action. During the civil rights movement, a highly structured and disciplined action in a segregated city like a sit-in or Freedom Ride had the capacity to confront the system in a very direct way, presenting the powerful a dilemma between violent overreaction and capitulation. Such actions, however, have since turned ritualized and generally ineffective in American protest movements. But Occupy Wall Street commends to us the anarchist insight that, in much the same way, hierarchical command structures are highly vulnerable to non-hierarchical action.

There you have it. It doesn't mean that you use these tactics solely against the police (in a deeper sense, they're not "against" actions, they're "pro" actions, in favor of the rights of the People). The movement can -- and in many cases does -- use them everywhere. Not so much against "laws" as against "structure."

I encourage people to read the whole piece. It is filled with insight.

And then go forth.

Freely, positively, and forcefully. The time has come.

(See Chris Hedges burst into tears at the realization of what he is witnessing -- and a part of -- in previous post.)

Also, there is a fuller discussion of Diversity of Tactics and the struggles surrounding their use at the videos linked in this post from October 9.

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